Special Education Hearing Officer
Student’s Name: S.S.
Date of Birth: [redacted]
ODR No. 14764-1314KE
Parties to the Hearing: Parent[s]
Quakertown Community Sch. Dist. 100 Commerce Drive Quakertown, PA 18951
Christina Stephanos, Esq. 331 Butler Avenue
New Britain, PA 18601
Dates of Hearing: 05/13/2014
Record Closed: 07/03/2014
Date of Decision: N/A1
Hearing Officer: Brian Jason Ford
This matter arises under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. On May 22, 2014, I issued an interim order, directing the parties to clarify the issues and their positions in this matter.2 In response to the interim order, the Parents submitted a brief, and the District submitted a brief with 15 exhibits. Upon consideration of the parties’ briefs, and for reasons stated below, I now dismiss this matter sua sponte.
The history of litigation between the parties, and the extensive procedural history of this due process hearing, are documented in the five (5) prehearing orders and one (1) interim order issued in this matter. For context, a prior due process hearing between these parties was resolved by a Settlement Agreement and Release dated October 25, 2012 (Settlement or Agreement). The parties then engaged in litigation about the Settlement itself, resulting in a determination that the Settlement is binding on the parties. A.S. v. Office for Dispute Resolution, 2014 Pa. Commw. LEXIS 72 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Jan. 24, 2014).3 The Parents then initiated these proceedings, originally alleging that the District breached the Settlement, and seeking enforcement or specific performance. After explaining my lack of jurisdiction to hear such claims, the Parents amended their complaint twice. The Parents’ Third Amended Complaint (Complaint) is before me.
In the various prehearing communications, and in the five prehearing orders issued in this matter, and during the hearing session, I have reiterated that I do not have authority to enforce private settlement agreements. In the lead up to this hearing, I generously read the Complaint to include a claim that the District breached its obligation to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to the Student. More specifically, I determined that I could hear a claim concerning a denial of FAPE resulting from the District’s alleged failure to implement the Settlement. My jurisdiction was premised on the alleged denial of FAPE, not the alleged breach of contract. I also determined that evidence of breach of the Settlement is not, by itself, evidence of a denial of FAPE. Rather, the Parents bore the burden to establish that the Student required specially designed instruction (SDI) and/or related services in order to receive a meaningful educational benefit, and that such SDI and/or related services were denied as a result of the District’s breach of the Settlement.4 I explained all of this to the Parents countless times in many ways both before and during the hearing session.
During the hearing session, and through their brief, the Parents abandoned all claims except for their claim that the District failed to comply with Paragraph 4 of the Settlement, and that such non-compliance resulted in a substantive denial of FAPE. See NT at 190-197.5
In its brief required by the interim order, the District concedes that it did not “fully comply” with Paragraph 4, but argues that this non-compliance did not result in a substantive denial of FAPE. The Parents, in their brief, aver a multitude of ways in which the District breached Paragraph 4. The Parents also aver a multitude of ways in which the Student was denied FAPE (some of which were raised for the first time in their brief). There are connections between the alleged violations of Paragraph 4 and the alleged denials of FAPE. However, these connections are tenuous and, more importantly, can be made only by stepping outside of the Parents’ only remaining claim.S-S-Quakertown-Community-ODRNo-14764-1314KE